The Nashville Predators split a pair of games on the road, dropping a 3-0 decision in Winnipeg on Sunday (the score sounds worse than it was, as the team battled to the very end, giving up two empty net goals, in what was a 1-0 affair for close to half the game.)
Tables were turned however, as the team headed to Colorado for a Tuesday night tilt.
The teams traded first period goals, with captain Mike Fisher tallying first, and the Avs’ Mikko Rantanen scoring about a minute apart towards the end of the first frame. The Preds came out for period two with a vengeance as Viktor Arvidsson netted his seventh of the young season just seven seconds in. Young Kevin Fiala added a goal three minutes later, and the team never relinquished their lead.
In the third period, Nashville came out flying again, with Ryan Johansen and Austin Watson adding goals within the first 2:42 and the team headed home with a 5-3 victory. For Watson, we were treated to the rare “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” a name bestowed upon a player’s accomplishment of recording a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game! Watson came into the game with just one point in his first 17 games with the team, but was deserving of the game’s “second star” for his contributions.
The number one star, Johansen has really turned his game around in the past half-dozen contests. After a three-point night during the team’s opener vs. Chicago in early October, Johansen had just six points in his next 17 games, and was at times, looking lost and occasionally disengaged on the ice. In the Preds’ 11 losses he has just two assists, and being the team’s number one center, he has the ability to be a game changer, and his contributions can turn losses to wins. His seven points in the last three Preds wins back up this statement.
Johansen has shown why David Poile pulled the trigger on the huge deal that sent stud defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus midway through last season. May we have some more, please? We’d certainly like to see Johansen maintain this torrid streak through the remainder of the season.
A rare three days off in the NHL’s schedule, the Predators next see action with a pair of early weekend games.
At 1:00pm on Saturday, Nashville hosts the New Jersey Devils. While both teams have 25 points in the standings, New Jersey is just 21st in the NHL in team scoring, with a power play that sits 25th overall. This means that a solid defensive effort by the Preds could spell trouble for the road team. New Jersey is always considered a solid defensive team, but so far this year they are in the middle of the pack, at 17th in goals against overall.
Nashville, of course, with incredible success at Bridgestone Arena, enter the game with six consecutive home wins and an 8-1-1 home record. Nashville are 6th overall in scoring, 4th on the power play, and are in the upper half in goals against at 13th, and have vaulted even further up the penalty kill standings, now 7th in the league.
Incredibly, heading into November, Nashville sat at 29th on the PK, but in the past month the team has allowed just one power play goal, killing forty of forty-one chances! The team’s power-play was silenced on the road, going 0 for 7, after a four game hot stretch that saw them net six goals with the man advantage.
On Sunday, the team plays a rare 5:00pm home game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Adding to the crazy overall parity throughout the league, the Flyers also boast 25 points in the Metropolitan Division (along with New Jersey.) Philly has a top-notch offense, currently 3rd overall in scoring and 2nd on the power play.
Their weakness, however, is keeping the puck out of their own net. Goaltenders Steve Mason, the injured Michael Neuvirth, and rookie back-up Anthony Stolarz have given up eighty goals in their first 24 games (29th overall) and often find themselves in high scoring “run and gun” affairs. The Predators will obviously look to hold their high-flying offense, led by Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux, off the scoresheet.
On Tuesday, the Preds conclude their three game homestand with a 7:00pm game against the Avalanche. Nashville has two wins in two tries on the road against the Avs, and will look to continue taking advantage of one of the few “weak sisters” the league has offered up this season.
Nashville currently sits in a third place tie in the Central Division. Chicago (33 points) paces all teams, with St. Louis (29) behind them. The Minnesota Wild and Nashville have identical 11-8-3 records for 25 points, with Dallas and Winnipeg just a point behind. Colorado’s 19 points rounds out the seven-team division, with the top three guaranteed a post-season berth at season’s end. The fight is most definitely on!
Throw in the Pacific Division’s San Jose (29), Anaheim and Edmonton (26), Los Angeles (25), Calgary (24), Vancouver (22) and Arizona (19) and you can see how, with only eight of the eight of the fourteen teams advancing, come April, each game is chock-full-of-tension and possibilities!
Stick around for the final three quarters of this intense NHL season.